Reaching movements with similar hand paths but different arm orientations. I. Activity of individual cells in motor cortex

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Feb;77(2):826-52. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.77.2.826.


This study shows that the discharge of many motor cortical cells is strongly influenced by attributes of movement related to the geometry and mechanics of the arm and not only by spatial attributes of the hand trajectory. The activity of 619 directionally tuned cells was recorded from the motor cortex of two monkeys during reaching movements with the use of similar hand paths but two different arm orientations, in the natural parasagittal plane and abducted into the horizontal plane. Nearly all cells (588 of 619, 95%) showed statistically significant changes in activity between the two arm orientations [analysis of variance (ANOVA). P < 0.01]. A majority of cells showed a significant change in their overall level of activity (ANOVA, main effect of task, P < 0.01) between arm orientations before, during, and after movement. Many cells (433 of 619, 70%) also showed a significant change in the relation of their discharge with movement direction (ANOVA, task x direction interaction term, P < 0.01) during movement, including changes in the dynamic range of discharge with movement and changes in the directional preference of cells that were directionally tuned in both arm orientations. Similar effects were seen for the discharge of cells while the monkey maintained constant arm postures over the different peripheral targets with the use of different arm orientations. Repeated data files from the same cell with the use of the same arm orientation showed only small changes in the level of discharge or in directional tuning, suggesting that changes in cell discharge between arm orientations cannot be explained by random temporal variations in cell activity. The distribution of movement-related preferred directions of the whole sample differed between arm orientations, and also differed strongly between cells receiving passive input predominantly from the shoulder or elbow. The electromyographic activity of most prime mover muscles at the shoulder and elbow was also strongly affected by arm orientation, resulting in changes in overall level of activity and/or directional tuning that often resembled those of the proximal arm-related motor cortical cells. A mathematical model that represented movements in terms of movement direction centered on the hand could not account for any of the arm-orientation-related response changes seen in this task, whereas models in intrinsic parameter spaces of joint kinematics and joint torques predicted many of the effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis